Monday, July 26, 2010

Jodi Picoult Rules! A book review of House Rules

If I were trapped on a desert island and could only bring books by one fiction writer, I would choose JP. This is the fifth or sixth book that I've read by her, and she never fails to deliver. In fact, I think this is one of her best books yet.

House Rules is the story of Emma, a single mother whose husband walked out on her because he couldn't handle dealing with her then three-year-old son, Jacob, who had just been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. She also had a baby by the name of Theo.

As the story unfolds, Jacob is now 18. He does well academically -- he's nearly a genius -- but is incapable of forming social relationships because his brain isn't wired that way. So, Emma hires a social tutor for him by the name of Jess. Jess has a less than ideal boyfriend, who is often possessive, jealous and sometimes abusive. One day, Jess is murdered and Jacob, a crime buff, is charged with killing her.

As always, Picoult likes to delve into complicated legal issues, and there is a drawn-out trial, with an interesting relationship emerging between Emma and her young lawyer. Since my background is in psychology and social work, I love the fact that Picoult takes complex and pertinent social issues and weaves intricate, beautiful and heartwarming stories about them. We feel for these characters as though we know them, especially Jacob who wants so much to fit in but can't: wants to communicate but fails hopelessly. At the same time, we empathize with Theo, the forgotten child, and Emma, the one who has to do it all by herself -- superhuman mom. Picoult never fails to let us know that when one person is ill or off-balance in the family, the whole family unit is thrown off kilter.

However, this book is too long and could be cut by about 50 to 100 pages. She repeated so much about Asperger's and autism that I could have recited it verbatim myself (and yet I am no authority -- I don't know if this is really the way Asp kids are). I also felt that more attention and emotion could've been devoted to the crime victim instead of all of the attention being on the aforementioned family. Otherwise, as usual, a fantastic read and highly recommended.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Who is John Galt?

You tell me and be the first to win an electronic copy of Be Your Own Editor.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Words of Wisdom: Fearless by Dr. Brenda Shoshanna

Fear, insecurity and depression are part of the human experience, but they can be debilitating. Although fear can never be completely eradicated, it can be managed in a healthy manner, says psychologist Brenda Shoshanna. Author of The Anger Diet and Zen Miracles, Dr. Shoshanna uses many anecdotes and stories from Buddhism to demonstrate how to create an authentic self, to let go of perfectionism and blaming others, and to differentiate pain from suffering in her new book Fearless: 7 Principles of Peace of Mind.

Fearless is reminiscent in many ways of A Course in Miracles, which believes that there are only two basic emotions -- fear and love. All negative emotions, such as anger, indignation, and grief stem from a state of fear, and occur when we are not feeling or expressing love. Society encourages us to put on a false face and to care too much about what other people think; this creates phoniness. We can no longer be true to ourselves or to anyone else if we are constantly seeking approval, or wondering what others think about us. By letting go of the need to pretend to be someone else, we reduce unhappiness.

Likewise, many people are resistant to change, which holds us back. Shoshanna advocates welcoming whatever is in our lives at the moment, and being particularly attentive (or mindful) to it, even if it is painful or appears to be negative. For example, if you're diagnosed with cancer, embrace it. Look for the hidden opportunity to grow as a person. If your husband suddenly decides to leave you, let him go. Move forward. Suffering would only result if you blamed him, or yourself, and made yourself miserable. These maxims are easier said than done, but mindfulness and accepting what we can't change are tenets of all good philosophies.

Forgiveness also has healing properties. One of my favorite quotes in the book is, "It's easy to get rid of enemies. Take them to lunch. Let them be the stars. Think of ways you can give to them. Turn them into friends."

This book is not meant to be read in one sitting; it's meant to be studied. Fearless contains many pearls of wisdom, and in that respect it is not merely a pop psychology book. But, there are some areas that Shoshanna doesn't address. What about clinical depression, panic disorder and bipolar disease? Sometimes people are anxious or depressed for chemical, or even physical, reasons related to medical problems. Those may not resolve with a new attitude and perspective on life, however brilliant.

The same is true about millions of Americans whose homes are in danger of foreclosure -- a group that Dr. Shoshanna refers to in the preface of the book, but fails to adequately address within the text. It's one thing to stop worrying about what others think of you. It’s something entirely different to welcome the opportunity to be unable to feed your children or live with your family in your car.

Fearless is not a panacea for all that ails us, but it is a great starting place, and I would highly recommend it. I plan on rereading this book several times over the decades.

Sigrid Macdonald is a reviewer for

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

365 Days To Reinventing Yourself -- Achieve Anything in Just One Year

Tired of self-help books that don't change your life because you read them once and put them away? Life Coach Jason Harvey has created a one-year guide that enables you to take small steps towards achieving larger goals. So, put away your GPS. From practicing acts of kindness to observing your life and choices more carefully to taking greater risks, Achieve Anything in Just One Year provides a roadmap to success and greater peace of mind.

Treating others well is the cornerstone of happiness. When we feel down, one of the fastest ways to feel better is to do something nice for someone else. This goes hand-in-hand with forgiveness of both others and ourselves. How can we be happy if we are still blaming ourselves for something that we did years ago? We can't. Both forgiveness and doing unto others are part of a larger picture of morality, and Harvey asks us to become people of integrity. Nowadays, kids are often made to feel good for just being alive rather than for doing something worthwhile. That’s not helpful.

Each and every individual is responsible for his or her life choices and therefore situations. We have options. We are not billiard balls. Every day and every hour present new opportunities for us to make different choices, to find our passion and joy, and thus to change our path from failure to success, Harvey emphasizes.

Peace of mind is what we all aim for. How do we achieve it? By taking risks, by doing what we’re afraid of, by having fun and refusing to be workaholics, and by paying attention to the way we use our time. This includes not getting sucked into the big Internet vortex, which can rapidly eat up an evening.
Achieve Anything in Just One Year doesn't address some of life's most difficult circumstances, such as living with a disability or terminal illness, or working at a job that we hate. It assumes that we can change jobs or that we will -- or should be able to -- accept that which we cannot change, even if that’s a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer; if Randy Pausch can do it, so can you! What other attitude would you expect from the founder of the Limitless Institute?

The book price is steep, but it’s dense with information and the format is excellent. One of the reasons that self-improvement books often fail to help people is that we read them once and put them away. This book is designed to be read once a day; by doing so, it enables readers to make small changes, to see their progress, reflect upon it, feel encouraged and move forward. It’s hard to imagine someone not learning something about themselves or their world by reading this book, particularly with its focus on journaling and asking tough questions about one’s dreams, goals and directions.